Inside look at the First-Year Seminars
- The program gives new college students the opportunity to think critically, write clearly, and contribute to thoughtful discussions. Learn more.
First Year Seminar (FYS) Course Offerings
First-Year Seminars are a critical part of the Common Course of Study, a co-requisite for other courses taken by students in their first semester, and a prerequisite for subsequent courses.
First Year Seminars are limited to around 16 students per section, the First-Year Seminar includes significant reading, writing, discussion, and presentation and is affiliated with the College Writing Program. Students in First-Year Seminars are introduced to the use of the library for research.
Students should select their top 5 First-Year Seminar courses in order of preference.
Students should understand that in case of a schedule conflict between a First-Year Seminar and a required major degree course, the major course will take precedence, and an alternate seminar option will be assigned.
FYS 017 Making Change Democratically
What does social change in a democracy look like? This course equips students with a framework for understanding how social change happens and allows them to identify issues in the local and regional communities surrounding the college that can be tackled through democratic action. Students will deepen their academic understanding while developing as informed, engaged, and effective civic agents. – Professor Rizvi
FYS 20 Appalachia
The region of the Eastern U.S. known as Appalachia is defined by the geological characteristics of the Appalachian Mountains, but also can be characterized and described on the basis of the distinctive natural, historical, cultural, and economic characteristics of the region. It will be the goal of this course to develop the skills to recognize, understand, and evaluate and communicate the complex interrelationships among those factors that define and describe this region of the U.S. – Professor Husic
FYS 25 Fútbol: Inside the Beautiful Game
In addition to offering mass entertainment, soccer has been used as a government propaganda machine, is the pillar of multi-billion-dollar enterprises, and has led to wars and questionable social behaviors. Using an interdisciplinary approach, we will explore how soccer is more than just a game. Drawing on readings from sociology, economics, and politics, we will look at soccer as a sport, a form of entertainment, a tool for oppressive regimes, a form of collective identity, and a major force for social change.” – Professor Ospina-Giraldo
FYS 27 Death on Screens
This course examines the intersections of death and screen media while introducing ways to read and respond to complex visual texts. What is death, according to cinema? How has visual media depicted mortality and how do these representations determine our collective understanding of death and dying? How do film, television and evolving digital platforms prescribe and teach audiences what to think about death? Ultimately, what does it mean to encounter and consume death on screens? – Professor A. Smith
FYS 28 Money: The Root of All Evil?
While the most recent financial crisis has heightened awareness of what can happen when the financial systems runs amok, this crisis was just one of several that plagued the markets at various times within the last two centuries. This course focuses on the financial history of currency and the capital markets through a critical examination of their functioning and impact from their beginnings to the present day. – Professor Bukics
FYS 35 Technology and Society: Semiconductor Era
This seminar explores sources and uses of energy in a technical society. Issues regarding fossil fuels, nuclear energy, solar energy, and alternative sources of energy are investigated. Conservation of energy and the storage of energy are discussed. Energy uses for plant and food production, transportation, industrial output, leisure activities, and the national defense are reviewed. Finally, the use of energy is examined in the context of atmospheric pollution, radiation, noise, and nuclear weapons.
FYS 36 Trials of the Century
This interdisciplinary seminar will examine the “Trials of the Century” that have captivated the general public’s attention because of the highly controversial issues they raised, the publicity they received, and the decisions that resulted. By examining these great trials, using political, historical and legal academic lenses, we will refine our critical analytical skills and better understand both our legal and political systems, and the resulting changes in law and society. – Professor Murphy
FYS 37 I Cannot Live Without Books (or Liberal Arts)
Books have long been central to making and sharing knowledge, and colleges and universities have grown up around libraries and cultures of reading. How can a deeper understanding of the history of book production and use help us understand the idea of a liberal arts education? This course pursues these questions through research, creative projects, and especially hands-on work with Skillman Library’s rare books collection.
FYS 43 Charisma (2 sections)
Charisma, meaning “gift of grace,” denotes a deeply personal, yet anti-institutional type of authority, shared by certain cult leaders and revolutionaries, religious visionaries and political prophets, antinomians and avant garde artists. There is also the charisma of place and thing, from sacred shrines and objects, to famous art works and national monuments. The course will explore the meaning of charisma, with case studies in enthusiastic religion, political revolution, and antinomian avant garde art movements. – Professor Schneiderman
FYS 47 Life Sciences: A Human Endeavor in the Misinformation Age
In the current age of rampant misinformation, how can we identify and understand legitimate research in the life sciences? How can we learn to distinguish among reliable information, propaganda, advertisements, and outright falsehoods? We will explore various controversies and contemporary subjects in the life sciences, particularly those which involve the manipulation of scientific (or pseudoscientific) information as a means to deceive. The reading and writing assignments in this course explore how scientific knowledge is generated, tested, challenged, archived, reviewed, summarized, presented, discarded when necessary, and frequently abused along with the ethical issues associated with animal and human subjects research. Finally, we will also explore who scientists are in the 2020s with a goal of illuminating both the humanity and diversity of the people generating scientific knowledge and the limitations and challenges that they face. – Professor Hines
FYS 52 Weaponized Media: Living in a World of Bots, Trolls, and Disinformation (2 sections)
Social media sites have become the most powerful distributors of information in human history. They’ve become not only sites of connection and friendship but also of power struggles and violence. This course will consider how malicious actors have weaponized media to change the outcomes of elections, facilitate genocide, and spread conspiracy theories. We will focus on the methods used to exploit social media and on the consequences such exploitation has for the nature of truth. – Professor Laquintano
FYS 59 Feed the World: Challenging Hunger
This course offers an interdisciplinary look at our food from planting to harvest, distribution and packing, to our tables. Emphasis on combining a social sciences perspective with an engineering human-centered design process to define and address problems of world hunger. Focus on investigation, problem definition, and project-based learning of issues related to global hunger. –Professor Stewart-Gambino
FYS 58 Invention
Youtubers. TikTokers. Podcasters. These are just a few of the names given to an emerging class of “celebrities” who make a living by sharing their creativity online. Much like famous inventors from history, contemporary content creators take advantage of new technologies to influence culture. But, are influencers inventors? Or, are they something different? This class considers what it means to be an inventor. By creating our own content, we will explore the nature of modern invention by attending to issues of creativity, authenticity, and work in digital environments. – Professor Mitchell
FYS 60 Jewish Writing
Jewish writing has been a way to create group and individual identity. We will think about major themes and styles, and we will also talk about how Jewish writing is a good “case study” for understanding how writing helps us create a sense of self. This class analyzes primary texts from the Hebrew Bible to popular literature and memoirs. We will learn about the concepts of canon and genre to see how reading and interpretation have influenced the meaning of different types of Jewish writing. You will practice writing about Jewish texts as well as the types of reading and writing that appeal to you and why. – Professor Carr
FYS 68 Mobilizing Science
Scientific research plays a critical role in the way societies overcome challenges and respond to crises. How do societies mobilize scientific activity in the face of such challenges? Who foots the bill? Who decides the priorities? The reading and writing assignments in this seminar will explore the complex interplay between different social forces that mobilize science toward specific ends and examine the moral and ethical quandaries scientists often face when deciding how and whether to participate in the resulting research effort. – Professor. Thomas
FYS 77 The Dog Course
“Man’s best friend?” Nature’s most successful parasite? Employing a range of perspectives-literary, philosophical, archaeological, biological and technological-we will examine specific constructions of the dog at various moments in human history. We will consider issues of evolution, domestication, the morality and technology of breeding, and the psychological comforts of anthropomorphic representation. Because field trips and other required activities will involve contact with dogs, this course is not recommended for those who may be afraid of dogs or have health issues that could be made worse by interacting with dogs. – Professor. Falbo
FYS 81 On Punk
Music. Anger. Yelling. Lifestyle. Anarchism. Sex. Community. The punk ethos takes on and goes beyond these concepts. Its multiple afterlives engage in critiques of past and current political-economic systems and formations: colonialism, capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy. Approaching punk from different media (music, sound, visuals, fiction and non-fiction literatures, documentaries), students will navigate through past/current subcultures based in Mexico City, Los Angeles, Medellin, Lima, New York, and San Juan. Assignments will replicate punk’s DIY spirit. – Professor Rodriguez-Ulloa
FYS 83 Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse
A full-scale, devastating global pandemic of the kind depicted in many contemporary zombie movies would challenge all of humanity to marshal its resources and solve problems both new and age old. In order for human beings to survive such an apocalyptic scenario, we would need to put every bit of learning and human endeavor (intellectual and other) to work. This course will use the pop culture trope of a zombie apocalypse to introduce students to various kinds of academic inquiry. – Professor. Tatu
FYS 86 Propaganda
What is propaganda? What are some of the most common propaganda techniques? How, if at all, does propaganda differ from other forms of persuasion? Is the use of propaganda to influence opinion always ethically suspect? How is it suspect? Is it possible that propaganda could be used to communicate accurate information, or must propaganda always be misleading? This First Year Seminar examines these and related questions from an historical, sociological, psychological and philosophical perspective. – Professor Shieber
FYS 109 Understanding Design
In this seminar course, students use observational drawing, structured observation, journaling, readings, discussion, and writing to develop their ability to observe, discuss, and evaluate the use of common design elements in the spaces and objects that surround us and that comprise the built environment – the human-made environment where we spend most of our lives. -Professor Roth
FYS 114 The Values of Cinema
Learn how to look at works of cinematic art in an informed and reflective way. We will emphasize the importance, to properly understanding and evaluating a movie, of considering all of its cinematic features, including genre, relationship to other works, screenplay, camera work, music, etc., and of becoming informed on whatever is relevant to the content conveyed-all features that a casual viewer might miss. The seminar includes film screenings outside of regular class time. – Professor Giovannelli
FYS 117 Demonstrating Science
Scientific demonstrations are used in lectures, science museums, and television shows to explain scientific principles and inspire wonder about science. How important are such demonstrations to a true understanding of science? Is seeing believing? Is seeing understanding? In this course we will explore the science behind some popular demonstrations and consider the ways in which such demonstrations have educated, obfuscated, or inspired their audiences. – Professor Boekelheide
FYS 120 Theater and Visual Culture
Our first books are picture books, but as we learn to read, the images disappear and our education focuses on reading and writing WORDS. Yet thousands of images surround us each day-in advertising, media, and theater-yet we are rarely taught how to read, analyze, or acknowledge as intellectual property the non-verbal modes of communication. This course will introduce students to techniques for analyzing visual images, focusing on: static images (such as print advertising), “sequential art” (such as graphic novels) and the “languages” of the stage (such as collaborative performance). We will discuss how we receive and respond to images, and how those images function artistically, ethically, and culturally. – Professor Westfall
FYS 127 I Know You Are, But What Am I?
This course follows the path of ideas about the self and society outside Western textual traditions. Focusing on exchanges of ideas in selected Asian traditions, we will consider diverse ways of thinking about our own identities and how they relate to our social lives. Along the way, we will hopefully also come to question some of the assumptions we have about who we are and how social life works. – Professor Gallemore
FYS 130 Being Non-Human (2 sections)
What does it mean to be human in the contemporary world? Is there a common humanity? If so, what do humans share with each other that other living beings do not have? In this course we will explore how the definition of humanity has historically rested on assumptions about nonhuman life, and we will consider how various scholars and artists have approached the nonhuman—from bacteria to animals to cyborgs—in their work. – Professor Vora
FYS 138 Theater and Social Justice
For thousands of years, the theater has both entertained and provided a forum in which social issues can be explored. This seminar will investigate, through readings and performances, how theater provides an immediate and strong voice to debate social and political problems. Students will have opportunities, through writing, discussion, and theatrical performance, to explore social and political issues and the ways in which dramatic works can inspire social change. – Professor Lodge
FYS 141 Mathematics of Social Justice (2 sections)
Alexander Hamilton said, “The first duty of society is justice.” Today there is vociferous argument about the prevalence of justice. To what degree is society just? Are there practical ways to make it more just? This course considers the importance of understanding data and applying mathematics to ask these questions and to explore meaningful answers. Using mathematics that everybody is taught, we’ll try to make sense out of conflicting opinions, so as to discover the importance of quantitative literacy for all citizens in a democracy.
FYS 143 Coffee (2 sections)
Coffee has a ubiquitous and somewhat unique role in our society. While some tend to think of it merely as a vehicle for caffeine, it is also the basis on which cafe culture originated and exists, a highly-traded commodity crop with huge economic impacts and worldwide sourcing, and a finely-calibrated culinary subfield that draws on myriad engineering and chemical approaches to generate wildly different sensory experiences. The sheer level of integration of coffee into every aspect of our lives makes it a highly suitable interdisciplinary topic to consider and explore. This course aims to train students in information literacy via the investigation of coffee from several scholarly angles: a social approach, where students ask themselves (and others) the values and importance of the ritualistic nature of coffee and how it fits into their everyday lives; a scientific approach, where different flavor and texture experiences are explored; an engineering approach, where aspects of a coffee extraction are modulated to yield vastly different results; and finally, a humanist approach, which ties together what they have observed over the semester, and asks them to express their ideas of what defines a positive coffee experience. – Professor Woo
FYS 151 In the Media
This course provides the opportunity to engage in public scholarship related to the major issues, institutions, and individuals shaping the 2020 US national elections and its consequences. Students will produce visual essays designed to communicate knowledge through the visual broadcast media. Video essays that meet the quality standards and guidelines for editorial integrity may be aired on PBS39 as part of its 2020 election coverage. -Professor Crain
FYS 156 Narratives of Mental Illness
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourettes syndrome, depression, eating disorders-this seminar introduces students to a wide range of texts (memoirs and first-person narratives, films, painting, and medical and philosophical treatises) that focus on the experience of living with mental illness. Particular attention is paid to the style and form of textual representations of psychological disorders, as well as to the cultural and philosophical questions such texts raise about the very category of “mental illness.” – Professor Cefalu
FYS 158 Nonviolence: Theory and Practice (2 sections)
This course explores both the theoretical development of nonviolence and the practice of nonviolence as a means for waging and resolving conflict. Using the examples of Mohandas Gandhi and India’s independence movement, the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe, the power of music in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, as well as the personal testimonies of individuals and various groups pursuing nonviolent change in the Lehigh Valley, this course explores the principles of nonviolence in action. – Professor Fabian
FYS 166 Atheism and Skepticism
Why have people chosen to be atheists or skeptics? What arguments have they used to support their positions? Several recent bestselling books have criticized organized religion as a dangerous delusion, and scientists are currently searching for a possible biological (rather than supernatural) basis for religious faith. Criticism of religion, however, has a long and colorful history. In this course, we will study examples of atheism and skepticism in different cultural contexts from Asia and the West. –Professor Rinehart
FYS 167 Animals in History
How have “animals” and “humans” made history together? How can we think and write about history beyond the human? Through the reading and writing assignments in this course, students will reflect on their own understandings of human-animal relationships over the last several centuries in cities, entertainment, food, empire, and the “wild.” We will approach these questions through various lenses: environmental history, cultural history, disability studies, political anthropology, and the history of capitalism. – Professor Zallen
FYS 169 The 1960s: The Causes and Effects of Social Change
The Civil Rights Movement, the Antiwar Movement, the Space Race, and, of course, Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll…Through an examination of written and oral histories, documentary film, the poetry, music and visual arts of the Sixties, students will explore the underlying causes for change during the nation’s most tumultuous decades. In addition to the causes, students will determine for themselves the influences that the 1960s have had on the present day. – Professor Newman
FYS 173 Latinx
Popular media from the news to film is filled with references to Latinos and Latinas, but what do we really know about them? This course explores the Latinization of the United States, highlighting the social, demographic and cultural forces that have shaped Latino/a experiences in recent decades. Specific course content includes social scientific studies of Latino/a immigration and community formation, and representations of and by Latinos/as in novels, essays, TV and movies. – Professor Donnell
FYS 179 Leveraging Social Entrepreneurship (2 sections)
Market-based social entrepreneurship as an approach to addressing poverty, unfreedoms and the lack of localized agency among the poor in economic development has seen a rise in prominence. This is often attributed to the failures of national governments, multi-lateral agencies, and conventional philanthropy to respond dynamically to the challenges posed by changing global and technology landscapes. These failures also reflect a reliance on an outmoded development paradigm that is both inattentive and unresponsive to the modern needs of income poor people to be primary owners of their development experiences, a possibility made more realistic because of globalization and technological change. In essence, as first noted by Adam Smith and reported in Amarta Sen, freedom of exchange and transaction is in itself part and parcel of the basic liberties that people have to celebrate, and as Sen himself points out, “the freedom to participate in economic interchange has a basic role in social living.” – Professor Hutchinson
FYS 189 Silk Roads and Sea Routes: East-West Trade and Intercultural Exchange in Pre-Modern Times
From the 2nd c. BCE to the 15th c. CE, the Eurasian continent was profoundly transformed by the “Silk Roads,” a series of overland and maritime trade routes stretching between China and Rome. This course will explore not only the exotic goods that were traded, including silk, porcelain, gold, and even horses, but also the transmission of religious beliefs (Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity), artistic and musical practices, and technologies between peoples of vastly different cultures. – Professor Furniss
FYS 195 Russia Today
“A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” is how Winston Churchill famously described Russia. Decades later, after the Cold War and amidst the resurgence of Russia’s influence on the world stage, this FYS asks the question: what is Russia today? Taking into account conservative and liberal currents, we will study mass media, contemporary literature and cinema, and activism under Putin with an eye to challenging our assumptions about Russian culture, identity, and history.
FYS 197 Deconstructing “Africa”
This first year seminar addresses popular images of the African continent with the intention of getting beyond media stereotypes of poverty, hunger, and ethnic conflict. It tackles these problematic ideas by reading African novels and watching African films in order to better grasp how writers and artists from across the continent have imagined “Africa.” Classic works by Chinua Achebe, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Bessie Head, J. M. Coetzee, and Chimamanda Adichie will be assigned, as well as films by Ousmane Sembène, Djibril Diop Mambéty, and Mati Diop. Students will have weekly writing assignments as well as a research paper to gather their reflections and develop critical analytic skills which they can apply to future coursework. – Professor Lee